Summary: Micah is the Prophet of the Messiah’s Advent, presenting the Salvation history of mankind - through Ruin caused by sin, temporary Reformation, proving the absolute need for Redemption by Jesus and Restoration of God’s Kingdom.
The book of Micah isn’t one that springs to mind except perhaps at Christmas when we remember the well known verse, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you be small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will rule over Israel, whose origins are from old, from ancient time” (5:2).
This verse is accepted as a reference to a “Promised Ruler from Bethlehem” – the Messiah, but there’s much more to the message of Micah than that! The Christmas Story quite rightly is celebrated as a key festival of the Christian Church. The danger is that it’s seen as a stand-alone event, when it’s really a step in the salvation history of mankind.
The 8th century before Christ was a low point in the spiritual life of Israel. Perhaps its cause was that, like in our own day in the Western world, it was time of relative peace and plenty. Micah, as Hosea and Amos had done a generation before, raised his voice against this serious falling away from the historic revelation of Jehovah: ”Hear, O peoples, all of you, listen, O earth and all who are in it, that the Sovereign Lord may witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple” (1:2). It was his painful duty to tell the people of Israel that the nation is in spiritual:
Micah ministered to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. He predicted the destruction of the Northern Kingdom of Israel by the Assyrians and warned the Judeans that, unless they repented and changed their ways, they too would come under God’s discipline for their sins. The standard by which God measured His people was the covenant He had entered into with Moses. This raised a standard of holiness. Any behaviour which fell short of this standard was denounced as sin and uncleanness and could not be tolerated by a holy God. If the people obeyed, they would enjoy blessing, but if they disobeyed, they could expect judgement.
Micah has been called “the prophet of the poor and oppressed.” He denounced both the corruption of the state of Jerusalem and its political and spiritual leaders. His message is proclaimed with no uncertain sound, as in passionate terms he attacks the social evils of his day. His courageous stand for his convictions of God’s truth made him extremely unpopular. It recalls the famous historical statement attributed to Henry II about Thomas A’ Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, “Who shall deliver me from this turbulent priest?” It’s been repeated many times about Church leaders who raise a voice to criticize those in authority who ignore the downtrodden. Such leaders of society are needed more than ever today.
In Micah’s day the religious practices were debased and there were many moral and social abuses in its community life. He complained, “Zion’s leaders judge for a bribe, her priests teach for a price and her prophets tell fortunes for money” (3:11). The rich stripped the poor of their money and property and oppressed them unmercifully.
It was a blatant violation of basic God-given human rights. The Divine Bailiff served them notice through Micah. It took a good deal of courage to do this for, not unnaturally, the unscrupulous landlords bitterly resented what they thought was unwarranted interference in their business affairs! “Don’t preach these things to us” (2:6), the false prophets cried. But true prophets never pussyfoot around the issues. Micah refused to be quiet as he unmasked and denounced the false rulers.
What happened in Micah’s day still takes place in the 21st century, especially in the developing and third-world countries. Wherever you find distressed and suffering people, the cause is usually their leaders. Corrupt authorities rule for their own benefit, and the people suffer. Like Micah, we may feel quite powerless to do something about injustice in society, but he certainly made a fuss over it. Fortunately, nowadays, there’s a greater social conscience with efforts being made to forgive the burden of debt of poor countries. We can’t do much ourselves except support efforts for Fair Trade by Tearfund and similar agencies.
The warnings given by Hosea and Amos had been ignored, but in His great forbearance and mercy, God was giving the nation yet another opportunity to return to Him. Micah knows that the leaders of church and state are blind to the situation and that judgement is inevitable, leading eventually to the exile of the majority into Babylonian captivity. Yet he’s given a prophetic insight of hope for a returning remnant, and of:
To read the book of Micah only in the past or present tense is to miss the point. Micah looked to God for revelation as to the future, perhaps in a shadowy outline, but nevertheless a valid prophecy. Micah had to deliver a sombre message of judgement but he never loses hope. The promises made by Jehovah to Israel’s founding fathers were irrevocable and not even the gross sins of the people could annul the unconditional promises of God. Micah sees beyond the present awfulness to a return from exile: “I will surely gather all of you, O Jacob; I will surely bring together the remnant of Israel” (2:12). “… the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways so that we will walk in his paths” (4:2).